Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pastors and the call to a ministry

As a Resource Minister in our region, one of my responsibilities is to assist our churches when they are seeking a new pastor.  I also work with pastors seeking a new place to serve.  While it is exciting to work with churches and pastors during this transitional time in their lives, there are some disturbing trends that I've noticed in the past few years.  One of those trends is the reason the pastors give for wanting to move to a new church.

Virtually every month I'll receive at least one call from a pastor who wants to relocate in our region.  The reason most often given is that they have family in the area and want to be closer to them.  I can understand that.  We have one child living two hours away and another one about ten hours away.  We would love to see them and our grandchildren more than we do.  And, I can also accept the fact that sometimes God may call us to serve in a place closer to family.  My problem is that this is nearly the only reason people give for wanting to make a move.  It seems that many clergy persons today have replaced a sense of calling with a desire for convenience.

During my two decades as pastor at Hebron Baptist Church I was contacted by numerous pastor search committees.  During one 18 month stretch an average of one church a week called me asking for an interview.  I think in all that time I interviewed with less than five churches because I never sensed that God was calling me to leave my present ministry.  Why talk with another church if God hasn't released me from where I'm serving?  When I did agree to meet for an interview it was because I began to wonder if I was missing God's leading, but after each interview I knew I was to stay where I was.

It was sometime during my 18th year at the church that I began to believe that my time there was drawing to an end.  Two years passed while I waited to see what doors God would open, and was quite surprised to find that it was in the role I have today.  I assumed it would be another pastorate but learned God had other plans.  When the opportunity was presented to me I had no doubt that God was calling me to leave my pastorate and that he was calling me to this position.  Nothing else entered into the decision except my wife's and my confidence that this was God's call on my life.

Ministers make a big mistake when they change churches and ministry positions based on anything except a confidence that God is leading them to make the change.  Now...God often gets the credit (or blame) for their decision, but I'm not convinced that God is actually behind many of those changes.  A pastor begins his ministry at a new church and announces how excited he or she is that God has called them to this place only to announce three years later that God has led him or her to another church.  For too many ministers this process is repeated ten or twelve times during their ministries.  I just don't believe God is that confused about where they are to serve!

Such ministers seldom accomplish anything of lasting value anywhere they serve.  When they retire they can't look back over a 30 year ministry; they can only look back at a string of three year ministries and find there is little to celebrate.

When God calls a minister to a place of service it will be for an extended period of time in most cases.  One exception to this is the person called to interim ministry who God will call to a place for two or three years while he or she helps the church prepare for a new pastor, and there may be other exceptions as well.  But, for most of us we need to pray and seek God's call to a place of ministry where we can put down roots and serve until we are convinced that he has called us to another ministry.  We need to be honestly seeking God's call to a place of ministry and not simply seek one to satisfy our own personal wishes and our convenience.

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